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Rabbi Ari Enkin

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

We now find ourselves in the period known as “Sefirat Ha’Omer,” which is the countdown (countup, actually!) from Passover to Shavuot.

In Temple times, at the start of this countdown, a special barley offering was brought, as the Torah says: “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day you bring the Omer offering, seven Sabbaths it will be” [Leviticus 23:15]. We are told that the Omer offering was so special and so holy that it was in its merit, among others that we received the Land of Israel!

A number of questions are asked on the Omer offering. Do you know what the word “Omer” really means? “Omer” is the name of a measurement, just like “pound” or “kilo.” Why is the offering called by its weight? Give it a real name! Also – why is there a counting component attached to this offering? Indeed, a counting component that continues for seven weeks nightly! And finally, why was the offering brought on the second day of Passover? The second day of Passover does not appear to be that special. The most special days of Passover are day one and day seven. The offering should have been brought then!

Perhaps the answers to these questions can be found in the following words of the Midrash (rabbinic literature): “God said to Moses…’In the wilderness I provided a daily Omer of Manna for every Jew. As a form of repayment, tell the Jews to bring Me an Omer offering every year on the 16th of Nissan.’”

Harvested barley fields

Harvested barley fields (Wikimedia Commons)

The Midrash is telling us that the purpose of the Omer offering is to remind us how God provided us with Manna in the wilderness in order to survive. Just as God provided for all our needs then, He continues to do so now. But back then it was obvious that God was our provider. Today, unfortunately, people believe that they provide for themselves, and forget, or choose to forget, that it is God providing behind the scenes.

This is the lesson of the Omer offering. When the farmers first harvested their crops at around Passover time, they may have been tempted to believe that their blessed and plentiful crops were due to their credit only. As such, God commands that the Omer offering be brought in order to remind the farmer that all is from God.

And why was the second day of Passover designated as the day to bring this offering? Because it was on that day in the desert, after Moses died, that the Jewish people had run out of Manna! What a day to be reminded that everything is from God!

Finally, the countdown from Passover to Shavuot, the day we received the Torah, is intended to remind us that the lesson of the Omer, remembering that everything comes from God, is perhaps the most fundamental teaching of the entire Torah. This lesson is so vital, which is why it is in its merit that we were given the Land of Israel!

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